Author. Journalist. Columnist.

About the Author

Denise Carson, MS, Author of Parting Ways.

Denise Carson, MS, is an award-winning author of the book, Parting Ways, and expert in new ways to approach end-of-life care. For more than a decade, she has worked with patients, families, hospice caregivers, and communities to create new rituals that invite acceptance, familial healing and celebration to a traditionally alienated stage of life. Carson wrote a column for the Orange County Register, featuring families and hospices rewriting how we live in life’s final chapter. Carson is sought out by the media for expert interviews on end of life and grief, quoted in the New York Times, Kiplinger and other media outlets.

Carson has a Masters of Science in Journalism from Columbia University, where she received honors on her thesis project about the emergence of new end-of-life rituals in America. The California Hospice and Palliative Care Association awarded Denise Carson and Hospice Care of the West the Outstanding Program Achievement for Advancing End-of-Life Care. The award recognizes an individual and innovative hospice program that is a model for other hospices and end-of-life care providers.

While researching her book Parting Ways published by University of California Press, Carson discovered life review video, oral ethical will, living funeral, vigil, and last wish celebrations changed the way patients and families experienced hospice and end of life. Carson joined forces with Debbie Robson, former executive director for Hospice Care of the West, to integrate these new practices, which shifted the culture and conversation from dying to living well with the limited time left for patients and their families in the hospice. Carson developed the blog, OurLifeCelebrations.com, as an online resource and beacon to shine a light on these new practices to guide patients, families and hospice care providers. Carson collaborated with Jay Gianukos, an award-winning life story documentary filmmaker, to grow the life review video program for the hospice.

At Hospice Care of the West, Carson and Gianukos created and led Celebration a bi-monthly gathering that united the hospice care nurses, palliative care physicians, spiritual care coordinators, home health aides and hospice volunteers. The ceremony mirrored the rituals in Carson’s book to reflect and celebrate the hospice caregivers and their patients through living eulogy, life review video, music, and reminiscing on open microphone. Celebration created a new culture and spiritual community that revived and inspired them to continue providing exceptional patient care, which in turn grew the census for the hospice.

Carson also developed a series of classes to educate the community on hospice and palliative care, how to be a compassionate companion, how to record a life interview, how to create end of life plans, and a lasting legacy. Carson teaches seminars about innovative ways to approach end of life for hospice professionals, caregivers, seniors, veterans, and faith-based communities.

About Denise

The summer of 1999, I was working for Disney in Paris, France when my mother told me about the terminal cancer.  The same disease that had taken my father’s life was on move in her body.  I knew well how this story ended. We argued about my return. She wanted me to stay. I wanted to go home. I insisted. Then she paused, in her resolute British accent, she said,

“If you come home, I want you to interview me on our down time together…you can write my life story.”

Her request turned out to be the seed to my book Parting Ways. She revealed herself to me in our interviews. She shared her innermost fears, regrets, last wishes and her hopes and dreams for me. My mother trusted me to care for her and entrusted me to tell her story.

That gift of intimacy given in the last months, days and hours of her life helped me to gain a greater understanding of the fragility and force of people’s needs, wants and desires at the end of life. I used that bestowed wisdom and personal knowledge to guide me in discovering a new way to accompany loved ones on this journey to the last breath. After losing my mother, I took a year out to backpack around the world and learn about other people, cultures and religions. And in many ways, the traveling helped me to contextualize our experiences as Americans living and dying in such a culturally porous country where cultural rituals are borrowed and personalized. I believe these personal experiences invited me into the lives and living rooms of families in their most intimate and vulnerable stages of life. I traveled from the East to West coasts to report what I discovered to be an “End-of-Life Revolution” happening all across America.

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  1. Interesting evolution, Denise. Thank you for sharing about your mom and the intimacy between you in her nearing death. I just lost my mom in April and it was and is still tough, but I will always cherish our last weeks together revealing deep, inner thoughts, cares and concerns and laughter as well as the tears.
    Thank you again, Debra

    • Dear Debra,
      I’m sorry to hear about your mom but in same breath I’m relieved in knowing you took the limited time left to share intimate moments that drew you two closer together at the end of her life. These will sustain you as you move through your grief journey.

      Yes, I think you described it well, Parting Ways is an evolution of my grief journey to find others who had invented new ways to experience intimacy like you in this sequestered time of life. It was also a way of seeking out intimacy and connecting with other survivors in my lonely stage of grief where you are right now. All the people I met along the way helped me to creatively reflect on my mother’s life and our experiences that led to such a remarkable finale, her living wake, and this book, Parting Ways. I think you’ll find insight within the book that will help you with your grief as I began writing the seeds of this book when I was where you are right now.

      I’m grateful for our connection and look forward to hearing anything more you wish to share about your experiences with your mom or where you’re at now.
      Denise

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